Contemporary history of Luxembourg

At Work in the Library: Intellectual and Material Practices of Historians in the 20th Century

Workshop Gilbert Trausch
Report of the Virtual Workshop organised on 5 March 2021 by the Gilbert Trausch research group at the University of Luxembourg.

The trilingual, international, and interdisciplinary workshop served as a platform to exchange ideas on historiography, scientific method and digitalisation and to present first results of the University of Luxembourg’s research project on the work and the working of the Luxembourgish historian Gilbert Trausch (1931–2018) which was started in 2020 by the Centre for Digital and Contemporary History (C²DH), the Institut d’Histoire (IHist) and the Luxembourg Learning Centre (LLC).

In his introduction to the workshop, Michel MARGUE (IHist) compared the size of Gilbert Trausch’s library of an estimated 20,000 volumes with the libraries of Umberto Eco (30,000) and with the one of Alberto Manguel (40,000), whose library also extended to his entire house. As no library is the last one (Manguel), ever changing in a book collector’s life, MARGUE accentuated that every library should be described in its diachrony. Andreas FICKERS (C²DH) continued the introduction by sketching the objectives of the research project on Gilbert Trausch: 1) reconstruction of the library and the workplace of Gilbert Trausch, 2) high resolution photographs of all the book shelves with the possibility to zoom in into the spines and titles of the books, 3) scans of the content and the marginalia of some books, 4) digital edition of some of the manuscripts of Trausch, especially the so-called “Zauberhefte”, his method to organise his references to literature and archive materials.


Private Libraries as Markers of Intellectual Culture

In the workshop’s part 1 “Libraries of Historians of the 20th Century”, the first panel dealt with “Private Libraries as Markers of Intellectual Culture”. Jean-Charles GESLOT of BIBLHIS – bibliothèques d’historiennes et d’historiens (XVIIIe–XXIe siècle) pointed to the question “Mais où sont les bibliothèques des historiens français?” (“Where are the Libraries of the French Historians”), speaking of the difficulties to find the legacies of French historians like Marc Bloch, Maurice Agulhon, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Georges Duby, Ernest Labrousse, Abbé Breuil or Victor Duruy. The working group BIBLHIS already located 450 of their libraries (or parts of them) in France and keeps searching in other countries. These results and the papers of the first studying day of BIBLHIS one year ago will be published soon. GESLOT presented his research methods on the question how public and university libraries and archives are storing libraries of French historians.

In her paper “Les dons de bibliothèques ‘constituées’ d’historiens et d’historiennes présents dans les collections des établissements d’enseignement supérieur et de recherche” (“Donations of ‘Constituted’ Libraries of Historians in the Collections of Higher Education and Research Institutions”). Anne-Charlotte PIVOT who is collaborating with BIBLHIS underlined that an historian’s library is rarely limited to published books and that the receiving public libraries are not always attracted by the complementary materials, papers and periphery coming with these books. She observed a discrepancy between the interests, practices, and perceptions of the researchers on the historians’ libraries and the professionals and authorities of public libraries. PIVOT gave an overview on the libraries of historians in the inventories of research and of third-level institutions and concluded with the hope that the new interest in these libraries of historians will lead also to new encouraging initiatives.

The discussion on the first two papers focused on the donation and reception of historians’ libraries by public libraries and the accompanying problems. Monique KIEFFER, retired director of the Bibliothèque nationale de Luxembourg, was convinced that the problems of giving the public access also to the papers and marginalia of an historian could be overcome by digitalising methods.


Inside the Private Library: Organisation of Knowledge from the Printing to the Digital Era

Armin HEINEN, professor emeritus of the RWTH Aachen and co-author of the well-known educational book Wie benutze ich eine Bibliothek? (1995) (“How Do I Use a Library?”) used by generations of students, commenced the second panel “Inside the Private Library: Organisation of Knowledge from the Printing to the Digital Era” with his contribution “Über das Verfertigen einer geschichtswissenschaftlichen Narration – Wissen über Vergangenes erarbeiten und organisieren” “On the Working out of a Historiographic Narration – Compiling and Organising Knwoledge on the Past”) in which he described the epistemological order of knowledge and reconstructed the ways history is shaped into form. Departing from his personal practice of collecting and organising historical knowledge from archives and historiography in the 1970s and 1980s, in a period where everybody depended on written excerpts and, if lucky, on photocopies, HEINEN described the media break in his own biography when in parallel to his old knowledge administration with the help of slip boxes in the last decade of the 20th century, he began to use a computer. He resumed the history of information organisation of historians throughout the centuries from excerpts over slip boxes to digital organisation of information; the latter was out of reach for most of 20th century’s historians. All these different types of knowledge organisation leave their mark on the diverse forms of publication.

Wolfgang FREUND took a look at the “Bibliothek des Historikers Gilbert Trausch” (“The Library of the Historian Gilbert Trausch“). As an introduction, he gave some examples on the theory of library and the history of private libraries. In his opinion, the passion for books in the Trausch family derived from the grandfather whose bookstore was bequeathed to the mother of Gilbert Trausch. This may have influenced the acquisition of an estimated 20,000 books by Trausch. Renouncing to catalogize these books, Trausch lined them up by themes and epochs like many other historians did, for example Jürgen Kuczynski and Heinz Dieter Kittsteiner. The main trouble with this amount of volumes was their storage in the house Trausch on three floors, divided into eight rooms, five corridors, two flights of stairs and the garage; here FREUND discerned a geography of “livres de proximité” and “livres de périphérie” (Philippe Desan). In more than the half of Trausch’s books we can find his signs of using in the form of underlining and marginalia. For the provenience of the books in the Trausch library, he coul give but one example of a purchase receipt from a Parisian bookshop.

Renée WAGENER, alongside with FREUND researcher in the Projet Gilbert Trausch, counted Trausch amid the generation which read literature with the help of its own books, in books from public libraries or their photocopies. After a short summary of the history of photocopying, WAGENER pointed to the advantages of the photocopy which is much more accurate than excerpting. This often seduced researchers to copy much more than needed. Astonishingly, the role of photocopying historiographic work has not been analysed scientifically. In the words of Gabriele Lingelbach, historiographic practice becomes so much a second nature that it is not seen as something to explore more deeply.

In the following debate, Joëlle WEIS from the Herzog August Library Wolfenbüttel suggested to examine the publications by Trausch for reflexes of marginalia from his books. HEINEN interpretated Trausch’s historiographical work as “Meistererzählung” reproduced from his memory, while MARGUE wanted to distinguish several epochs of his scientific production and accentuated the role of emotions in scientific reception, conception and creation.


3D Visualisation in Heritage Reconstruction and Virtual Libraries

Part 2 of the workshop on “Virtual Reconstruction and Visualisation” consisted of four papers in the panel “3D Visualisation in Heritage Reconstruction and Virtual Libraries”. Piotr KUROCZYŃSKI from the University of Applied Sciences of Mainz and the working group on 3D reconstruction of the Herder Institute displayed “Digital 3D Reconstruction of Cultural Heritage” of manorial houses in East Prussia. These manors are reconstructed on the basis of historical sources and testimonies. The 3D models can be virtually visited and walked through. Their diachronic development can be valued and the information on the sources displayed. KUROCZYŃSKI also explained the software used by his team.

With her paper on “Autorenbibliotheken und ihre digitale Rekonstruktion” (“Author Libraries and their Digital Reconstruction”), Anna BUSCH from the Hand Library of Theodor Fontane Library in Potsdam presented the example of 155 volumes from Fontane’s library whose 6400 pages her team of humanist and computer scientists has digitalised in merely half a year. Books in libraries of authors often reveal user’s traces (marginalia, underscores, inserted papers) as carriers of a beginning writing process. By scanning and commenting, these traces have been made broadly available. both the professional and the larger public are target audience for the project’s web presence. A video gives an insight in their work.

In the discussion, BUSCH alluded to similar projects, e.g. on the libraries of Thomas Mann and of Herta Müller. Weis emphasised the need for designing overall standardised data norms for the interproject exchange. Claudine MOULIN, specialist in German studies of the University of Treves, proposed the creation of a network.

In his paper on “Modelling of Historic Buildings Using Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM)”, Simone GARAGNANI from Bologna distinguished between digitisation (process of changing from analogue to digital form), digitalisation (domains of social life restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures) and digital transformation (strategic transformation requiring cross-cutting organisational change as well as the use of digital technologies). Building Information Modelling (BIM) gives access to fresh information on architecture and can help in its reconstruction, for example of the church San Paolo in Monte in Bologna severely damaged by an earthquake. HBIM is the application of BIM principles to the cultural heritage focused on the comparison between the existing buildings and a well-known architectural grammar. By analysing the drawing documents on the church Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato it was possible to reconstruct its original proportions (cf. Sabine Frommel [et al.], “3-D Digital Modeling and Giuliano da Sangallo's Designs for Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato”, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 80 (March 2021), n° 1).

In the last paper of the workshop, “Maison Trausch: 3D Capturing, Modelling und Photo-realistic Visualisation”, Norman TEFERLE from the Geodesy and Geospatial Engineering of the University of Luxembourg, assisted by his colleague Lars WIENECKE (C²DH), described that part in the Projet Gilbert Trausch which is almost accomplished: the outside and high definition inside photo shooting of the house Trausch and especially of the library to create a “virtual experience/museum”. With a mobile capture system of several laser scanners and a statical scanner, their team (collaborators Quentin Bebon, Shahoriar Parvaz) framed a reference system. Capturing the bookshelves with the statical scanner was necessary to provide an accurate shelf model for the historians, but some of the books have no names on their spines and therefore aren’t recognisable without opening up their title pages.

To the question of André LINDEN, how the books in the Trausch library should be digitalised and opened to the internet public, FICKERS answered that the experiences of the Fontane Project could be beneficial. The day concluded with the thanks of WAGENER and FREUND who highlighted that the understanding of the papers given in this workshop will assist them in their scientific tasks and with the thanks of MARGUE and FICKERS for the cooperation of all the speakers.